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We’re going live!

Live in front of an audience, that is!

We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! previews tonight at 8pm in the Shimberg Playhouse at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10, and if you are a student, senior or member of the military with a valid ID you can get them for $5 at the window as of 6:30 tonight.

$5? Criminy, that’s cheaper than a movie!

So what is a preview, really? It’s not just the early-bird theatrical equivalent – an excuse for us to offer up cheap tickets. It’s first and formost that “test run” before an official opening. Some theaters preview for a solid week or multiple weeks before an official opening, to work out all the kinks in front of mulitple audiences. I’m a little jealous of that, frankly.

But if we’re having real people come in and pay real money to watch a show – isn’t it real? Sure it is. We walk a weird line between saying “no matter what, it’s still officially a rehearsal” and “we have a paid audience so ____ needs to be fixed!” I guess it depends on which answer better suits our point. Technically, both are true. So I’ll still tell an actor to play, experiment, try new things during a preview – but I’ll also tell my set designer that the table really has to get painted before a real audience shows up.

The cast of WWP! is oh so very in need of an audience. They have this play pretty well set into their bones, and they’re missing that final piece. This show really relies on that energy coming back from the audience – from the direct interaction. There are many points in the show where the actors talk directly to the audience or interact in other direct ways – and you can only pretend that for so long before it loses it’s newness.

I’ve used a metaphor throughout the process that I stole from playwright Dario Fo about the relationship between actor and audience in his plays. He hearkens it to that of the relationship between fisherman and fish. They have a very similar line connecting them. The fisherman has to maintain the tension on the line, enough to continue to pull the fish along. He also has to be careful not to jerk the line too hard, otherwise you lose the fish and yank the hook right out of it’s mouth.

Well, apart from me and a few helpers – it’s been a real dead pond. I’m practically an alligator snapper sitting at the bottom. They need a school of bream, or even a batch of catfish would be a change of pace.

I think once that last piece sets in, and the actors are able to fully enjoy the work they’ve done on this show and their characters, each other, the play and of course the audience that this play will only then evolve into what it wants to be. It has a carnival/street fair feel to parts of it, and it reminds me in more than one way about how how our (abridged) shows work. With every one of those we hit the wall about a week out where we don’t think anything is funny anymore, and so it’s always a surprise to open and get a response.

I’m very, very proud of this cast. I’ve worked them like dogs, and they’ve been up to every step of the challenge. They’re combining their own sensibilities as performers with several hundred years of comedy history, combining the best from commedia dell’arte to classic TV. They’re clowns, and they are simply loads of fun to watch.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about it all – that’s what directors do – but as I surveyed the room last night and looked at the faces of these incredible artists who’ve given me so much over the past few weeks, I was infused with a powerful sense of faith, trust, admiration and respect. These guys have their fishing poles at the ready, their feet in the water.

They’re ready for you, are you ready for them? I hope to see you out this weekend.

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